Chelsea G. Summers Longreads July 15 minutes 3, words. This is a piece about abuse. This is a piece about kink and a piece about consent. This is a piece about the law. This is a piece that was hard for me to write and may be hard for you to read. Most of all, this is a piece about why masculinity is fractured, and how women get caught in its cracks. I read the Mayer and Farrow piece with a mounting sense of dread, horror, and recognition. But I knew what these women were describing because I too have felt something like those slaps, those stings, that choking fear.
Born and raised in Manhattan, Schneiderman glows with an idealized aura of the East Coast elite. After graduating from Amherst College and Harvard Law School, Schniederman worked as a public interest attorney before turning to public office.
Schneiderman won that election. He won the next election. And he won four times more, eventually parlaying his state congressional successes into his winning bid for New York attorney general. By all public accounts, Schneiderman used his power and his privilege as a champion for women and for the poor. I think I voted for Schneiderman. Why would I not? I was a progressive Democrat, and Schneiderman looked like an exciting candidate.
Indeed, as state senator, Schneiderman introduced and passed the Strangulation Prevention Act of , a bill that specifically categorized choking as a criminal felony. BDSM — an acronym for bondage, discipline, and sadomasochism; or bondage, dominance, submission, sadism and masochism, or some alternate conflagration of these initials and these ideas — is as elastic as its indecisive definitions would suggest. The baggy category of BDSM embraces a panoramic landscape of sensual acts and desires that run a breathtaking gamut.
I have never engaged in nonconsensual sex, which is a line I would not cross. These women maintain that Schneiderman slapped them so hard that he left bruises or that their ears bled, that he choked them until they blacked out, and that he threatened to kill them if they told on him.
Schneiderman claims it was all in fun. It was games. It was nothing but sexy-time consensual play between adults. But the phrase also interests me because it holds the implication that physical violence can be consensual. No matter how you understand it, BDSM should always follow by one tenet, which is this: Consent is king. Other than porn performers, whose work requires the careful, clear negotiation of sexual acts, the people with the deepest commitment to sexual consent should be those who engage in kink. The reason for this obligation to consensuality is simple: BDSM has the potential to cause harm to bodies and to minds, especially to those who are on the receiving end of the pain.
Kink spans the spectrums of gender and sexuality, but the BDSM style that is, unsurprisingly, most culturally accepted is the 50 Shades of Grey flavor of a dominant male and a submissive female. Of course, culture murmurs, men want to be dominant — why would they want to give up their power?
But masculine dominance is as much a constructed cultural fiction as feminine submission, and not to question it is dumb compliance. Just as my playing submissive has given my busy brain a rest, and just as it has let me assume a kind of feminized helplessness, so too, I imagine, playing dominant lets men embody a mode of inaccessible masculinity.
I read the Mayer and Farrow piece with a mounting sense of dread, horror, and recognition…I knew what these women were describing because I too have felt something like those slaps, those stings, that choking fear.
Though there is a reluctance to talk about it, sexual abuse in the kink community exists, and despite the shroud of silence, women are most often the victims at the hands of men. To my shame, I have been drawn to men who wear a progressive overcoat atop their seething misogyny.
It was a cool principle, I thought. Phillip was fast-talking, darkly handsome, and faintly dangerous, and, as I do, he liked rough sex. Phillip checked all the right boxes: He had left-leaning politics, a feminist sensibility, and a passion for kink. But Phillip quickly overstepped my lines. He slapped my face without my permission.
He took my consent to have anal sex as authority to do it so forcefully that I bled and had to seek medical care. I loved Donny enough to talk marriage with him — we went so far as to pick out rings — but we had a tempestuous, flickering relationship. Sign up. But the feminism was fake, while their rage — at women, at themselves, at their families, at society, at whatever it is that angers white men with advanced degrees — was real. These men appeared to embody the fascinating dichotomy of enlightened politics and raw male sexual magnetism, and this bifurcated appearance was as important to them as it was to me.
A magical mixture of progressive politics and kinky sensibilities, these two men I dated seemed to be, as Schneiderman perhaps was, real-life centaurs: half progressive politics and half dominant animal.
Certainly, my ex-boyfriends and I had had consensual kinky sex in the past and, in full disclosure, we would again because relationships are complicated and painful.
In the minds of these men — as they slapped my face, ripped my asshole, and bruised my vagina — we were just having rough sex. After eventually pleading guilty to first-degree manslaughter, Chambers spent 15 years in prison; after he was released, he was subsequently convicted of selling drugs and is currently serving another sentence. Oliver Jovanovic, after being found guilty in a trial for kidnapping, sexual abuse, and assault of a year-old Barnard undergraduate, had his conviction overturned in Many include choking. And frequently, the defense works — if the defendant is found guilty, he often receives a minimal punishment.
Look at the assault case of Hugh Douglas, a former defensive end for the Philadelphia Eagles. Douglas was charged with assault and strangulation of his girlfriend; he claimed it was rough sex. Eventually, Douglas pleaded no contest to a lesser charge of a misdemeanor breach of peace. Douglas was given a suspended six-month jail sentence and a two-year conditional discharge.
Men, these words tell us, are violent, while women are calm; men are raging, while women are refined; men are brutish, while women are mild. Jordan Peterson, the Canadian psychology professor and conservative lightning rod, is perhaps the most prominent spokesman of OG rough masculinity. You get to have your cake and eat it too. You can be strong and potentially dangerous and mysterious and all of those things that are definitively attractive features of men, not only to women, but also to other men.
I remember, for example, taking Phillip to a concert at the Public Theater, where we ran into one of my friends, a curvaceous, smiley woman, and her boyfriend, a tattooed, jacked community organizer. I made introductions, and then, spotting other friends across the room, left Phillip with my friend and her impressive boyfriend. When men testify to abuse as an outgrowth of masculinity, we have a problem. When men overwhelmingly perpetrate acts of mass violence, we have a problem.
A masculinity that requires men to suppress their feelings, to act strong, to be aloof, and to cultivate a mysterious remove is oppressive to men. A masculinity that teaches men that their sexuality is limited to being heavy-handed and domineering is equally oppressive — and ultimately dangerous. It means that men who feel these ways can be led to question the authenticity of their manliness.
In the best of all possible worlds, sex helps us to heal the ineffable harms our bodies and psyches carry. In the worst, sex replicates those harms, echoes them, reinforces them, and perpetrates new traumas on others. When men — perhaps men like Schneiderman, perhaps men like my ex-boyfriends — willfully mistake sexual abuse for sexual license, they violate women multiply. These women must, as I have, process this information, understand this experience, and live on, knowing that their lives are irrevocably changed.
A former academic and an ex-stripper, Chelsea G. Editor: Sari Botton. If you support our mission, please contribute today: Make a contribution. Make a contribution. Click to share on Twitter Opens in new window Click to share on Facebook Opens in new window Click to share on Pocket Opens in new window Click to share on Instapaper Opens in new window Click to email this to a friend Opens in new window.
Like this: Like Loading Posted by Chelsea G. Summers on July 25, Tags: abuse , chelsea g. Post was not sent - check your email addresses! Sorry, your blog cannot share posts by email.